[Her Dad asks] "Do you want me to come with you?"

I tried to be crafty as I hid my horror.

"That's all right, Dad, I'll probably just be in dressing rooms all day – very boring." (Twilight, page 80-81)

"The actual dialogue here is ordinary. Meanwhile, the middle paragraph – the so-called "supporting" narration – is doing most of the work of making this interesting." That's amazing.

"Emma? Everyone says that an author should put the information in the dialogue if possible, and that only unskilled authors rely on the supporting narration."

Yeah, it's like the unwanted step-sister in writing. "Modern authors are writing great supporting narration."

"That's hard to believe."

"But true. It's –"

"No one wants the long story, Emma."

I like the long story, but I give in with a familiar feeling of defeat.

Good Supporting Narration

by Emma Sohan

Normal supporting narration makes the dialogue more like a movie – it helps us see the scene, tells us what emotions the characters are expressing nonverbally, and tells us how things are said.

Um, that's a lot of telling. You can probably guess why supporting narration gets disdain. But that disdain can lead authors (like me!) to miss an important part of writing. For some authors, the supporting narration is as long and important as the dialogue.

Complex Emotions

Rich supporting narration often contains complicated emotions and feelings, or combinations of emotions and feelings.
How do you do that?" I asked in amazed irritation. (Twilight)
If you are trying to show your character has some relatively simple emotion, like anger, you have choices – you can try to show it in the dialogue; you can try to show it in nonverbal cues. But you aren't showing something complicated, like amazed irritation – pretty much your only choice is describing it.
"Sure?" she asks, her casual attitude flickering."That's all?" (My Best Friend, Maybe)
Does flickering casualness even exist? But, if action junkies can enjoy implausible action, us emotion junkies can enjoy difficult complicated emtions and feelings.
The man's voice is higher, more agitated now. I slow down my voice, like I'm talking to one of my brothers when he's coming unglued. "Okay. Help is coming. What's your name?" (Girls Don't Fly, page 165)
A lot of care is going into describing her voice.


People don't just talk – they interact. They have agendas. The supporting narration can describe what is happening in the dialogue.
"No," she said in a voice that implied it should be obvious, even to a new arrival like me. (Twilight)
"Apparently none of the girls here are good-looking enough for him." She sniffed, a clear case of sour grapes. (Twilight, page 22)
"Yes," I said again, blushing. I hoped that detail wouldn't register in her thoughts. (Twilight, page 205)
They can also have feelings and opinions about what they just said. Describing the incredibly beautiful and handsome Cullen family:
"They are . . . very nice-looking." I struggled with the conspicuous understatement. (Twilight)
Irony is especially interesting.
"Um, uh" I said articulately. (The Truth Commission)
Her irony, either to herself or the reader, shows an awareness of what she really thinks of her comment (and an ability to be somewhat philosophical about it).

The Unsaid

Um, if you're doing dialogue, it's painfully easy to show what someone is thinking -- you put it in the dialogue. But not everyone says what they are thinking. The supporting narration can show what a person is thinking but not saying, making it a second channel into their thoughts.
"I was talking to Sadie Pepper," I say.
His eye go wide. "Seriously?"
Yes, seriously. She was my best friend.
I nod, then put down ...
(My Best Friend, Maybe, page 10)
"I don't mind. I want you to be happy here."
"That's really nice, Dad. Thanks. I really appreciate it." No need to add that my being happy in Forks is an impossibility.
(Twilight, page 7)
"Um . . . so . . . We spend a lot of time together."
Oh no! OH NO. My feelings want to come spilling out, like he just poked a hole in the dam. There's a lot of them, and they've been inside me for a long time. But these are not ready-to-be-revealed feelings. I say calmly, "Uh huh."
(Emotions Girl, page 7)


Stephanie Meyer, in Twilight, consistently adds rich supporting narration.
     "What's up? I said as I was unlocking the door. I wasn't paying attention to the uncomfortable edge in his voice, so his next words took me by surprise.
     "Uh, I was just wondering . . . if you would go to the spring dance with me?" His voice broke on the last word.
     "I thought it was girls' choice," I said, too startled to be diplomatic.
I admire how much John Green can show in his dialogue. But he is perfectly willing to give the reader a careful explanation of an interaction:
     There are a number of ways to establish someone's approximate survival expectations without actually asking. I used the classic: "So, are you in school?" Generally, your parents pull you out of school at some point if they expect you to bite it.
     "Yeah," He said. "I'm at North Central. A year behind, though: I"m a sophomore. You?"
     I considered lying. No one likes a corpse, after all. But in the end I told the truth. "No, my parents withdrew me three years ago."
     "Three years?" he asked, astonished.
Note how much we can understand of the last line of dialogue – because of the preceding explanation, the line is short and powerful.

The following, one of my efforts, has meta-dialogue in the middle and ends with something unsaid.

     I look down at the table. "My mother left me when I was seven months old."
     Like everyone else I've told this to, he just sits there momentarily stunned. Then he tries to think of some lame but appropriate thing to say. I rush on, "It's not a big deal. I never knew her, so I never missed her. My father raised me. He's wonderful and everything's great."
     I shrug. No, not really. (Emotions Girl)

"Emma? Did you really just use Twilight as an example of good writing? What were you thinking?"

My normally perky attitude flickers with anger. "Stepanie Meyer writes great supporting narration."

longer essay